Catholic Family Fuel: Engaging children in the Catholic Mass
March 30, 2012
By Kenneth Gleason
Getting children to pay attention at Mass is not easy these days. The Catholic Mass is primarily an adult experience, which does not easily engage the average 21st century child or adolescent.
So, while the lector is proclaiming a 3000-year-old psalm or the choir is singing a 100-year-old song, many kids (and maybe their parents!) are thinking about what they can do with their iPad, who they can text on their mobile phone after Mass, or what the next tweet will be from their favorite celebrity. While there is no “sure-fire” way to get their undivided attention here are a few ideas that fall in the category of “this worked when I – or someone else – tried it.”
Perhaps the best thing you can do to prepare yourself and your children is to read at least one of the Scripture readings that you will hear proclaimed at Mass at home ahead of time. Even with young children knowing what to expect at Mass can be helpful. Read the Gospel together at a meal or at bed time. Talk with the kids so they will know what the story is about. The Gospel readings are probably the best choices as they are often in story form, unlike St. Paul’s letters which from a child’s perspective is pretty mysterious (read “boring”) stuff.
The next idea is about as simple as it can be. Sit up front! Think about it: If your children are 4, 6, 8, or even 10 years old, there is no way that they are going to be able to see over or around the average adult. If they are standing or sitting behind pew after pew of adult sized bodies all they are going to see are the backs of other people. The Mass is much more interesting if you can see what is going on. Admittedly this will not be a favorite approach with most teens, but younger children like to see what is happening up there on the altar.
When your pastor hears about this suggestion it might make him a bit nervous, but give it a shot anyway: Encourage your children to talk to you during Mass – under very limited conditions. Tell your kids that if they have a question about what is going on they can quietly ask you right then and there. School age children aren’t going to remember to ask you a couple hours later about why something happened. For example, just why did those adults have to stand up in front of the church during the homily? (There are a number of reasons why this could be including that they were celebrating an anniversary and renewing their vows, they were being commissioned to be catechists in the parish religious education program, or that they were candidates for Baptism.)
Tell your children and teens that on the way home they will be expected to answer a question about something they saw or heard at Mass. The questions have to be age appropriate of course. For example, one approach is to ask your children to look for something beautiful and for something they haven’t seen before. Or, you can ask the little ones something like, “What color did Father wear today?” School age kids can be asked about the songs that were sung or the readings of the day. Adolescents could be questioned about one of the priest’s thoughts expressed in the homily. And, make a game out of it. One parent told her children that if she forgot to ask a question about Mass before they got out of the car at home, they wouldn’t have to answer a question that day. Or perhaps, the first person to answer the day’s question will be the one who gets to pick dessert that evening, which TV show to watch or some such thing.
Will these ideas work with your kids? Maybe. But the bigger lesson here is that each parent needs to be proactive in helping their kids understand the Mass and have it become an important part of their life.
Gleason is the director of the archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.